A pair of determined journalists trace the dark career of Abdul Qadeer Khan, who led Pakistan’s successful quest for a nuclear weapon, then sold supplies and plans for similar devices to eager clients like Libya and Iran.
How could proscribed nuclear technology and material circulate under the noses of Western intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency? To answer this question, frequent co-authors Frantz and Collins (Death on the Black Sea: The Untold Story of the Struma and World War II’s Holocaust at Sea, 2003, etc.) begin in Amsterdam, where the amiable Khan arrived in 1972 to take a position in a Dutch technology firm. He displayed such an insatiable curiosity about products with nuclear relevance that some of his Dutch coworkers eventually became concerned enough to report him. Khan moved back to Pakistan, where he wrestled with bureaucrats as he sought to make his country a nuclear power. He eventually rose to a position of enormous wealth and power, becoming a national hero in 1998 when Pakistan detonated five nuclear devices underground. By then, Khan had found foreign markets both for his expertise and for his uncanny ability to deliver crucial materials that were supposed to be tightly monitored and controlled. The authors show how various U.S. administrations ignored Pakistan’s behavior, at first because they needed an anti-Soviet ally, then because it was a crucial ally in the war against al-Qaeda. But the buck stopped with Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Confronted by British and American intelligence agents with proof that Libya was pursuing nuclear weapons, the dictator cut a deal and implicated Khan as his supplier. Apprehended and detained by Pakistan authorities in 2003, Khan was pardoned by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in return for a written confession. He remained a hero to many Pakistanis and, in the authors’ view, “played a central role in ushering in the second nuclear age…threatened by a new type of proliferation.”
Thorough research and brisk prose propel a terrifying tale of greed, weaponry and geopolitics.